As murder rate rises, old crime fighting initiative discussed
BATON ROUGE - Four people have been murdered in Baton Rouge following a news conference less than a week ago to talk about the crime problem.
Tonight, former Mayor Tom Ed McHugh and those on the front lines of crime nearly two decades ago are weighing in on a program implemented back then that was immensely successful. It was called Operation Takedown. The goal of the program was the beat the streets and target blight.
"We decreased the number of murders," McHugh said. "We were setting records back then."
At a news conference Wednesday, officials announced that the city's homicide rate was at 57. Today, it stands at 61. Retired Baton Rouge Police Officer David Denicola was an integral part of Operation Takedown in the 90's. He remembers the Mayor on the front lines with law enforcement.
"Tom Ed used to come at least once a week, me and Captain Dickerson, and he'd get in the back of the unit and would ride four or five hours with us," Denicola recalled. "He saw what went on in the communities when the lights went out."
Denicola recalls hitting high crime areas as plain clothes officers also worked the streets.
"We'd send three or four in this area, and three and four in that area and we'd be close in case we needed back up," Denicola said. "We probably had ten or 12 cars at any given time ... every night."
In addition to the heavy law enforcement presence, taking down blighted homes that turned into hot beds for crime was also a big part of the program. At least 1,000 blighted properties were removed after going through the legal process.
"I would go into the communities and see decent hard working people who would come home and lock themselves in the house with bars on the windows because they were afraid to go outside," McHugh recalled. "Those people were incarcerated by the criminal element ... and it [Operation Takedown] was our effort to liberate them."
Although the crime fighting initiative had a proven track record of success, it was not cheap. McHugh recalls allocating resources to the Baton Rouge Police Department and the City paid plenty of overtime to get the community feeling safe again. Tonight, McHugh stopped short of saying Operation Takedown would definitely work today since he hasn't seen any of the data from the city. But, those who worked the front lines like Denicola believe it would.
"When you keep picking up dead kids, young men, women, and innocent bystanders it looks like you don't care," Denicola said. "Either you don't care or don't know what to do."
At last week's news conference, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome acknowledged that crime is a problem. She talked about areas she would like to focus on, but didn't provide specific details on what she plans to do.